Jesse Norman, Minister of State for Decarbonisation and Technology at the Department for Transport, responds to an adjournment debate on the new road scheme at Clevedon Seafront in Somerset.
The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Jesse Norman)
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) on securing the debate, and on the wonderful, almost idyllic, picture of Clevedon seafront that he painted at the start of his remarks. As he will know, managing traffic on local roads is and always has been a matter for local traffic authorities. They have a range of duties, powers and responsibilities, and a considerable toolkit of measures at their disposal to achieve that. Specifically, local highway authorities have a duty under section 16 of the Traffic Management Act 2004 to manage their roads so as to secure the expeditious movement of all traffic, which, it is important to say, includes pedestrians and cyclists. Balancing the different needs of road users with the many and varied demands on roads is complex. The role of my Department is to set an overarching Government policy, and provide an enabling framework of legislation, guidance and advice. But of course we take a serious interest in issues of road safety for all road users.
Because of that overall remit, we have no brief to intervene in matters of local democratic decision making. Decisions on what traffic management measures to provide are entirely a matter for local authorities, in accordance with local democratic procedures. Successive Governments have made it clear that they want cycling and walking to be a natural first choice for shorter journeys, and the Government have set out an ambitious vision that, by 2030, half of all journeys in towns and cities should be cycled or walked. Accordingly, as my right hon. Friend will know, Active Travel England was launched in August 2022 to work with local authorities to develop and deliver new high-quality walking and cycling infrastructure schemes. ATE is an executive agency of the Department, based in York. One of its core functions is to drive up the quality of new walking and cycling schemes, and to provide local authorities with the right skills to deliver them. ATE will review the quality of designs at bid stage, design stage and after construction. It is already proving to be a valuable resource where there are local concerns about safety.
In general, the Government take, as I have said, road safety extremely seriously. Reducing the numbers of those needlessly killed and injured on our roads is a crucial priority. The Department continues to make progress in that area. For example, through the safer roads fund, we have invested in schemes to make our 50 most dangerous roads safer. All those schemes are complete or under way and, over the next 20 years, those improvements alone are expected to save 1,500 lives. We also completed the biggest overhaul of the highway code in decades in 2022, so that vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists have priority in certain situations. The Department is working on a road safety strategic frame- work, and the aim is to have it published this spring. Based on a “safe system” approach, it will consider what might be appropriate to support performance indicators on casualty reduction.
My right hon. Friend mentions those who are vulnerable, but those who are elderly, disabled, or rely on motor transport to get from A to B must have their voices heard, too. It cannot simply be that we give priority to cycleways, which actually increase the danger for some of the constituents I have mentioned, the elderly, or disabled.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. In setting out the general framework of policy, I have yet to come to a specific discussion of the situation in Clevedon, but the elderly people he describes will themselves be pedestrians as they make the final part of their journey to the seafront, and their safety, too, must absolutely be part of an overall framework that respects their wellbeing and health.
Local authorities have a statutory duty under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 to ensure the safe movement of all traffic. They are responsible for ensuring the infrastructure they provide, including for walking and cycling, is safe and fit for purpose.
As my right hon. Friend highlighted, the scheme is apparently intended to improve the public realm on Clevedon’s seafront. It received funding through the second tranche of the active travel fund, which is designed to build out priority routes that could serve as core parts of longer-term local cycling and walking networks, including direct walking and cycling routes, road crossings, safer junctions, school streets, cycle parking, segregated cycle lanes and other such schemes. I want to be clear that a number of the schemes that were made permanent from earlier emergency active travel schemes have been modified or replaced following processes of formal consultation and design review.
On the subject of the wiggly lines, it is important to say that any road markings installed by local authorities must either comply with the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2016, or be specially authorised by the Secretary of State. The Department was not approached about these markings and has not authorised them. I note with some concern that the RAC said:
“This is one of the most bizarre new road schemes we’ve ever seen”
and went on to say the
“new wavy road markings could accidentally prove to be a road safety risk”.
It seems to me that the RAC is independently validating my right hon. Friend’s concerns. If they are a safety hazard, of course that is a matter to be taken extremely seriously, not just locally but by Active Travel England and the Department as it considers the wider picture on road safety.
I reassure the House and my right hon. Friend that ATE will be arranging an inspection of the scheme as part of its regular review programme. That will also consider safety issues, such as those that have been highlighted in this debate. As I understand it, some remedial work has already taken place on the scheme, although it may not be clear yet what changes will be made finally to the scheme as a whole. Although the Department has no powers to halt or remove the scheme, and ATE does not have powers to compel local authorities to make changes to active travel schemes, they are absolutely in a position to record non-compliance on design and safety issues that have been identified. Those then can, in the normal way, become the subject of public debate, local review, and any actions or reactions through proper local democratic processes. Design review outcomes will in turn inform assessments of the capability of local authorities, which in turn will have a material impact on future funding for schemes.
On engagement and consultation, it is true that any scheme must be developed and implemented after thorough engagement with the community affected. The Department has made that extremely clear. It appears, as I understand it, that North Somerset Council did carry out some public engagement on the proposals. It is important to say that objective methods should be used to establish a genuinely representative picture of local views and to ensure that minority views do not dominate a proper consultation process. Engagement should not end when a scheme is introduced. Authorities should continue to monitor how schemes are performing and make changes if they are required. I notice that some changes have already been made to the scheme. Authorities should also be open to making changes to any scheme in the light of further experience and real world feedback. The requirement to monitor and engage with local people therefore does not end with the apparent completion of construction work on a scheme.
Let me close by saying that I am very thankful to my right hon. Friend for raising this important local issue on the Floor of the House of Commons and on the public record. ATE will be inspecting the scheme as part of the normal review process, and the Department will continue to focus on safety and the improvement of safety for all road users now and in future.